Claremont has spirit of giving this holiday

‘Tis the season for giving, and Claremont residents demonstrated their generosity with a slew of toys for kids that might otherwise have gone without presents. No matter your location in the city, there was a local drop-box site just waiting for donations. Toys for Tots and Spark of Love accepted the community’s heartfelt contributions in the hopes of brightening a child’s Christmas.

Wheeler Steffen Sotheby’s International Realty was just one of several official drop-off locations for the US Marine Corps Reserve Toys for Tots, a program designed to collect new, unwrapped toys each year and distribute the goodies as Christmas gifts to less fortunate children in the community.

The office lobby was filled with over 100 toys, with more donations coming in past the December 19 deadline. The toys are picked up in Claremont and taken to Camp Pendleton, where they will be sorted by gender and age and gifted to the kids.

Sandra Reyes, Toys for Tots coordinator for the Marine Corps. has been working with the program for 12 years.  As the wife of a retired Marine, she knows the impact a donation can have on a child and says the whole experience is very humbling.

“Nowhere else in the world are people so blessed to live the lifestyle they want to live, and our military gives us the chance to do this,” she says. “There are lost of kids in the US who go without every day. We need to take care of our kids here first.”

Just up the road at the Los Angeles County Fire Station #102, a steady stream of cars stopped by as residents handed off their toy donations for the Spark of Love toy drive on December 20.

Bikes, Lego sets and stuffed animals filled the bins outside the fire station where donors were greeted by volunteers with Little Hands Helping Others and the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department as well as Claremont Police Department Explorers.

“Serving the community always puts a smile on my face, “ said Claremont Police Department Explorer Raul De La O. “The people donating these toys are making sure that kids in need are going to have a good Christmas. I’m happy to he a part of that.”

For the second year in a row, Keeping the Good in Our Neighborhood (KGNH) helped to coordinate the event and spread the word quickly with the help of social media and a strong list of contacts. Community partners Mountain View Chevy, Claremont Toyota/Volkswagen, Infiniti of Montclair, Claremont DoubleTree, CBAA, and Lyon Homes as well as the cities of Claremont and La Verne assisted in the effort to benefit the children in need.

As with last year, Granite Creek/KidCare has provided the venue for distribution.

“We found out about it on Monday,” said Betty Crocker, founder of KGNH. “I immediately reached out to Axel Garcia Sr. and Little Hands Helping Others and by Saturday, we were able to include law enforcement and help serve our public safety partners. It’s a wonderful thing!”

Mr. Garcia and his wife Carolina, together with their sons, 10-year-old Axel Jr. and 8-year-old Christian,  quickly sprang into action. The family is no stranger to a good cause. Axel Jr. made local headlines in December 2012 when he started a school-wide toy drive at Sumner/Danbury Elementary School to benefit Toys for Tots. Through his efforts, more than 3,000 toys were collected and donated to more than 250 needy families in time for Christmas, and he was later recognized by the city of Claremont for his philanthropy.

Sadly, with each passing year, the number of families in need continues to climb.

“We’ve confirmed there are at least 300 families in need this year,” said Mr. Garcia. “We were able to provide a toy for every child through the generosity of our community members.”

The Claremont Police Department helped to jumpstart the toy drive with a squad car filled with toys. Detective Corporal Dave Hardin and Officer Steve Sidenfaden rolled up to the station on Friday and delivered over $250 in toys including sports equipment, Barbie’s and games.

On Saturday, local residents followed their lead.

“We donate every year,” says Claremont resident Meg Compton. “Our child has a birthday this month and always gets too many presents. We donate the excess to Spark of Love.”

For Ms. Crocker, seeing the happiness on a youngster’s face when they receive their gift is something that has left a lasting impression and motivates her to come back, year after year.

“It feels like we could change the world in that one moment,” she says. “It’s really an amazing gift and I’m thankful to be a part of it.”

Businesses interested in sponsoring a Toys for Tot drop box next year, can contact Sandra Reyes at (909) 568-1434.

—Angela Bailey


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